Christian Marazzi (1951-)

Christian Marazzi was born in Lugano, Switzerland in 1951. He graduated in political science from the University of Padua, and a PhD from City University, both in Economics. He has held positions at the University of Lausanne, Padua, New York and Geneva, and is currently Professor and Research Director of Socio-Economics at the Scuola Universitaria della Svizzera Italiana. In the 1970s in Padua Marazzi was an active member of a study group on money organised around the magazine Primo Maggio, which opened with Sergio Bologna’s seminal article on Money and Crisis. The group worked closely on the impact of the declaration of 15 August 1971 on the inconvertibility of the dollar into gold, which sanctioned the end of the Bretton Woods system masterminded in 1944 by John Maynard Keynes, adviser to the British Treasury, and Harry Dexter White, chief international economist at the US Treasury Department. The monetary turn, the end of the gold standard, threw up new questions for Marxian analysis, especially on the function of money as capital and as universal equivalent. The latter function would take a secondary role, giving way to the emergence of money as primarily a fiduciary script or sign of debt, thus magnifying its performative function. Performativity rules command the manner in which financial markets operate that has been otherwise analysed, in behavioural finance, as the irrational rationality of traders, a primarily gregarious activity that, much like language, acts through words (the text below explains how). Marazzi develops these insights throughout his subsequent work, but unlike most behavioural finance economists, when studying the performative function of money, he insists, with Marx, that money is always also capital that commands labour.

Language and communication are structurally and contemporaneously present throughout both the sphere of the production and distribution of goods and services and the sphere of finance, and […] it is for this very reason that changes in the world of work and modifications in the financial markets must be seen as two sides of the same coin” (Capital and Language).

The workers’ side of the coin never falls out of view in his analyses, where much emphasis is placed on the deeply interconnected nature of the processes of dismantling of welfare, privatisation of public assets, and financialisation of everyday life – all of which sought to mould a suppler labour force.

According to Marazzi’s more recent analysis, debt relations have become the primary mode of meeting social needs. Because of this, contemporary financialisation exploits “human raw materials.” The bare life of workers who have nothing but themselves to offer is this raw material, in a turn where poverty and destitution are made profitable and, from a question addressed by welfare provisions, turned back into a resource for surplus extraction, effectively marking the end of the historic compromise of the Fordist

In line with other political economists in the tradition of operaismo, Marazzi furnishes us with a compelling contemporary translation of the notion of social factory – an expression that signalled the moment society began to produce before it entered the factory and outside of it, the breakdown of the borders delineating a privileged place of production, but also a significant externalisation of production costs, which in itself initiated a process of becoming rent of profit. The social factory is now named the production – and therefore exploitation and surplus value extraction – of the common: the set of resources, skills, human faculties and abilities, information, signs, sociability, affects common to all humans are the substance of the production of value and the extraction of surplus. This means that financial crises, and here crisis is a systemic failure that involves the destruction of capital, also call for the destruction of society, hence the violence.

In Marazzi’s view, financial cycles cannot be understood independently of class struggle, whether in terms of capital’s response to it or its prevention and pre-emption. His emphasis on the essential role of subjectivity in the system leads Marazzi to oppose the commonplace separation between a “real” or productive economy and a financial one. Financialisation spreads across the entire economic cycle rather than either substituting or usurping the primary role of the so-called real economy. For Marazzi, it is no “parasitic deviation,” but a form of capital accumulation co-substantial with the rest of the economy.

Marazzi is undoubtedly best known and appreciated as an acute observer of and commentator on economic crises, often praised for his powers of anticipation. For social movements, he is the go-to intellectual for intelligible explanations of the latest bust from the standpoint of the people, and the performativity of his own analyses has at times landed him in trouble with the powers that be. Overtime, he has greatly contributed to dispelling the obscurantist tendencies of economists’ language and in this he is a militant public intellectual. In style, he infuses chronicles on economics and finance with philosophical poetry and imbues his dispatches on the global economy with wit. His best moments often furtively lurk between the lines. Perhaps Marazzi is really a philosopher who singularly expresses the world’s economy in poetic form, and it is his poetic ability that makes glimpses of the totality occasionally visible.

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